That time I wrote a book series

June 28, 2012
Tuesday saw the release of A FAREWELL TO CHARMS, the last Princess for Hire book. Yes, the last book. I’m still not sure how I feel about that, to be honest. When I started the first book, the main thing I knew was how I wanted the book to end. But then when Disney offered me a three-book-deal, I tweaked that ending and saved that scene for the third book. I started Princess for Hire in summer of ’05, so really, it’s been a seven year build up. SEVEN YEARS. I can’t believe I even typed that. There is a part of me that feels like these books were an inevitability, that this idea was a gift. Another part still can not, CAN NOT, believe that I wrote these 3 sparkly books and someone wanted to publish them.
This series has been called a romp, a breeze, fluff, fun, silly, sweet. I hope it is all these things. I hope that the readers are entertained, that they are able to relax and let their imaginations go. But as the author, these books were not always a breeze. Far from fun. Sometimes, I wanted to punch these books in the spine because they were HARD.
Each book had its own challenges. Book one was my debut, the first time I’d gone through the editorial processs, the first time my work was reviewed. The Royal Treatment, well, that one I actually wrote then completely rewrote from scratch. No lie. A romp it was not. The challenge with A FAREWELL TO CHARMS was tying everything up and letting go. There were times when writing this final book that I started to think there was no way I could finish. That I would have to write another book, and another, and spend the rest of my life on this series because there was no end in sight. There were other times when I couldn’t possibly get my brain to conjure up a new idea, when I stared at the screen screaming the word princess like it was a swear word. But there was also that moment when I wrote the last scene, the scene I was always writing towards, and the tape snapped as I crossed the victorious finish line. I can’t even express what that moment was like.
This series is always going to be special to me because it launched my career, a career I hope will include many more books, more series even. Thanks for following along with Desi as she grew from a slightly self-absorbed, timid teen to a girl who is able to take on the most powerful organization in the world (it is! Just because you haven’t heard of FACADE, doesn’t mean it’s not real, kids)
Come help me celebrate the release of A FAREWELL TO CHARMS at the following events:
Friday, June 29: Release party! Las Vegas. Rainbow Barnes and Noble. 5-7. Come dressed as your favorite princess. Treats and fun and all books on sale!
Wednesday, July 18: Provo City Library. Reading, signing, questions, mayhem. 7 pm Books for sale
Thursday, July 19: Salt Lake City, UT. The King’s English Bookshop. My favorite bookstore in the world, a charming place for the charms book. 7pm.
Tentative events in August as well. Check events page next month for more information

Ta Ta,

Sean Griswold’s Head gets a new face

June 8, 2012
Sean Griswold’s Head almost wasn’t titled Sean Griswold’s Head. When title talk came around, the publisher and I went back and forth on titles for quite some time. I tried to think of something else, but every time I looked at this book, all I saw was SGH. I knew it was quirky, I knew some people might not like it. In fact, I’ve since had readers write to tell me how much they did not like the title. But I wanted something specific, something that fit, and to this day, I still think SGH was the best choice. The publisher finally said I could keep the title. And then it was time for covers.
The challenge with a curious title like this is finding a cover that explains the title. Alone, SGH might sound like a zombie book. We needed an image that told a story: this book is about a girl who gets inside a boys head through a very odd assignment. So the classroom, looking at the back of Sean’s head, seemed like the right fit. That’s why this was the hardcover image:
I really like this cover. You can read the full cover story over at Melissa Walker’s cover story feature.  This image is fun, it’s quirky, it has little hints about story elements. And the chalk green, oh, that I just adore. But others not so much. Of the reviews I’ve seen, I would say the opinions were pretty split. Some even asked if this was a boy book because there is a boy on the cover. I don’t think it’s a boy book. Honestly,  I don’t think it’s a “girl” book either, but that is neither here or there. When it came time to release the paperback, Editor Caroline told me they were going for a certain audience. They wanted to show the sweet romance of the story, that yes, Payton researches Sean’s head, but ultimately this story is about opening her heart–opening her heart to love, but also loss.
And so we started to look at couples that gave a vibe of Sean and Payton. This was tough, because Payton and Sean are only fifteen in the book. There weren’t many images that fit. Caroline sent me two others, and they served a purpose, but were either vague or blah.
Which is what I really love about this cover, that the couple communicates the kind of romance in this book. And I love that he’s kissing her forehead, says something about how Sean helps Payton come to term with the challenge she’s facing at home. And the background looks very much like Valley Forge in spring, with the tall grass and mature tree. I hope readers will pick this up, see that there is romance in there, but at it’s core, SEAN GRISWOLD’S HEAD is about family, about coming of age.
The paperback will be available September 19. What do you think?

What’s Your (New) Dream?

April 5, 2012
So my two-year-old, we’ll call her Logan (because that’s her name, and I’m actually fine sharing that, although I don’t expect readers remember all my family member’s names, so I just say ages, even though I hate having to type the – between year-old, but some people really care about that stuff). Anyway, Logan has recently become obsessed with the movie TANGLED, to the point that she wakes up in the morning, drags her blankie downstairs, inserts thumb in month and says, “Punzel”. The inevitable drool only adds to her charm. Once I turn on the movie, she says “Now Cuddle” in this very sweet, commanding voice. And I’m jello. So we’ve watched this movie almost daily over the last couple of weeks. Meanwhile, my other kids are off in that tree house I hand-built for them, munching on organic snacks and discussing the emotional parallels in Tolstoy’s writing to his troubled upbringing. So my parenting skills all evens outs.
Tangled. This movie? I heart it incredibly hard. I would go so far to say it’s not only my favorite Disney movie, but is on my top 10 movie list. It’s serendipitous that my daughter is requesting this movie and not, say, Titanic, a movie I hate with white hot burny things, but that’s a whole other blog post (oh, look! Someone wrote my inner-most thoughts, except with more swear words). But I digress.
So there’s this scene where Rapunzel is sitting out on the boat with Flynn Rider, waiting for the lanterns to be released. And she’s waited her whole life to see these lanterns float into the air, the simplest and purest dream a young girl can have. And she realizes she’s about to get what she always wanted, and asks what happens now, after a dream comes true. To which Flynn, Mr. Swoony McSmolderson (seriously, it’s unnatural the feelings I have for this cartoon character), answers, “Well that’s the good part, I guess. You get go find a new dream.”
Lanterns fly. Characters sing. Lindsey weeps. Logan flops on ground and screams for Muppet Movie instead.
I’ve been thinking a lot of about this, about the After of a dream. Stories don’t discuss the After, After has less conflict, it’s all the pursuit and glory, or the Langston Hughes deferment of defeat. Oprah tells us to create dream boards, calligraphic quotes encourage the pursuit, but I don’t think there is a needlework out there that says, ‘Hey dreamer! You got what ya want. Now deal.”
(Sorry, Mr. Disney, but this is bull. Last night I dreamt I made the Stanford volleyball team and for some reason Zac Efron was the middle-blocker, which could only happen in a dream because he’s short. Oh, and I’m 30. Oh, and they don’t have a coed team. Anyway, love Tangled, thanks for publishing my books, but let’s work on your catch phrases, K?)
 
Being an author was a dream of mine, not my only dream, of course, because I don’t believe in dream monogamy. It’s a numbers thing–you’re more likely to have a dream come true if you have a lot of dreams. I also dreamed of finding love, learning in a field that excited me, birthing kids who suck their thumbs & cuddle. I dreamed of a big life, of magically bouncy hair, of international travel… you know, just go to Pinterest. I want All The Things. But being an author was The Dream, the secret dream, the wishing on stars and holding my breath in tunnels sort of thing. And that happened. And like Rapunzel, the day my agent called with the first offer for PRINCESS FOR HIRE, I felt this odd wave of sadness. This was IT. The moment I’d thought about forever, and I was sort of lonely in it, because I didn’t know what to want anymore. And, then you know, I freaked the freak out and ate an entire cake and celebrated by buying my daughters’ any princess shirt they wanted, even if they were the garish ones at Walmart.
I’ve seen a lot of authors struggle with the After too. You want and want and want that book to get published to the point of physical pain, and then it’s published and you realize that book is just that. A book. A book on the shelf of many, many books, spines and spines of dreams lined up expectantly in a row. And maybe the dream wasn’t what you thought. I mean, there are thousands of books published a year, and yet the stigma of authors is that they’re rich and famous. No one imagines tainted dreams, the dismal sales or canceled contracts or one-hit wonders or heinous publishers or cover woes or *insert everything any author has ever angsted over ever*. Or maybe you publish a book and that book does pretty swell, but what you really wanted was to get a movie deal or make six figures or sell in forty countries or get asked to be on every author panel at every conference, including the one with Zac Efron (I’m available!) The toxic wanting never stops, you think happiness will only happen when XYZ does, which is silly, because everyone knows the letters that bring true bliss are QRS.
These, my friends, are dreams gone wonky. Can we instead revise all that needlework and say Dream (Within Your Personal Control) Big!? Because as important as having dreams are, it’s just as important to realize that like those billions of floating lanterns, dreams aren’t always something we make happen. Sometimes, we get lucky and they happen to us. Dreams are something we hope for, but goals are the things we really achieve. Goals are what we should celebrate, because we have say in those. And by setting small, obtainable, realistic goals, we might get a few of those dreams.
Whew, sorry got a little motivational speaker there. Let’s look at a potential author dream logically. Say I really want to hit The New York’s Time’s Bestseller list. I have many friends who have had this happen, and it looks pretty cool having New York Time’s Bestseller Author in front of their names. But the chances of the achievement happening to me are beyond my control. So beyond my control. Like that lantern is halfway to Madagascar right now. Why? Well, first of all, authors like me who aren’t already huge sellers usually have to something cataclysmic happen for their already-published books to suddenly sell huge numbers. Like a major award, or becoming George Clooney’s new girlfriend, or falling in a well and some charity raises money to save your life by promoting your book (double win!). But even if we’re talking release week of my next book, and that book for some reason is a breakout novel, there is still so much more that has to happen. There has to be buzz about the book, national buzz that usually involves publisher money, word of mouth and luck. There must be enough books in print to meet the kind of demand that ranks NYT numbers. Publishers only do large print runs for lead titles, or books they expect to be big, and that expectation might come because they bought the book for a lot of money in the first place. And those books need to sell in the right stores that report to the NYT. It certainly helps if I happen to be writing in the genre that is popular in the moment. And I also have to sell more then all other books that week, so my book is competing with the new James Patterson YA or Star Wars Lego book, and I can’t control what everyone else is writing and when they are publishing it. And… do you see that little raisin? Yeah, it’s my stupid dream. Why waste longing on something that I have ABSOLUTELY NO CONTROL OVER. I can’t make that dream come true. Even if I write the greatest book of all time and everyone recognizes that and consumers pour into the stores to purchase my book, THEY are the ones buying the book, THEY are the ones making it happen. Not me.
If your dream is to write a book, then go! Write that book with all the writingest… writest you have, kiddo! And next level, publishing that book? Yes, arm yourself with the sword or revision and the shield of publishing knowledge and the… the sling shot of, er, craft. Honestly, publishing a book itself is a ballsy dream to go after, but there are individual goals you can set to increase your chances, like finishing the book, making it great, sending it to the right agents, ect. When someone tells me their dream is to publish a book, I don’t doomsday them. Go for it, and as you bump along the road to publication, keep a level head about the differences between dreams and goals.
For all those Rapunzels out there who have already reached that published dream, please, keep dreaming. Realistically. Authors are imaginative folks, we can’t help but dream. Find a new dream that is just as great as publishing that first book, and make sure it’s not something that other people create, that is part of the publishing machine. Liberate yourself. Set goals to achieve things that are within your control. Have I said that yet? Yeah? The awards and the big advances and the Hunger Games-like hysteria? Those aren’t the dreams you hold close to your heart, those are the ones you let go, knowing it might happen, it might not, those dreams are just going to distantly float along. Oh, and hope that lantern doesn’t fall back down and burn some girl’s hair (it’s happened. My friend told me.)
I have days where I feel like crap just because I’m sitting around bemoaning everyone else’s awesome. I still have moments of envy, of asking “Why them and not me”? But more and more, I’m letting that go, feeling happy that those dreams are happening for others and meanwhile keeping my head down, focusing on what I have done and what I still am trying to do. This is part of living the dream, of continually growing and striving and achieving. I’ve been thinking for a few months about what I want my next writing dream to be, and I think it’s to write a book that is new and different for me, something that brings me joy, a project that isn’t about my career or brand, just something fun (which is not to say all my other books aren’t fun, but deadlines certainly do make work feel more like, you know, work).
Then if the other things happen–publication, the money, the accolades, the fame, Zac Efron on speed dial–then it’s all a nice bonus, but not what my heart was set on all along.
So I encourage you, creative types, to keep dreaming. Find a dream that makes you happy, makes you grow. Share it in comments if you like, I would love to hear it. Go on now. Fly your lanterns!! (But seriously, those lanterns have to be bad for the environment, right? Do they all fall back to earth someday and get recycled into coffee cups? Anyone know?)
PS–And now that I’ve used the word dream fifty seven times in this post, please don’t go all Evan Rachel Wood and tattoo this Edgar Allen Poe Quote on your back. It just kind of hurts my head.

Highlights Founder’s Workshop

March 9, 2012
This past week I had the opportunity to speak at Highlights Founder’s Workshop. I spoke so much, in fact, that my voice is pretty much gone today. From breakfast to well after dinner (the food, y’all. Delectable), I had to chance to talk books and marketing and writing and life with some fantastic people. Highlights has a robust offering of workshops, ranging from non-fiction magazines to whole novel retreats. Our session was on making the web work for you and I learned A LOT, particularly some great blogging tips from Julie Danielson at Seven Impossible Things and how to create effective book trailers. I think I’m going to dip my foot in for the last Princess for Hire book (also realized A FAREWELL TO CHARMS comes out in, like 3 months. Wha??)
Writers, I highly encourage you to check out the available workshops HERE. Almost half of the attendees receive scholarships and the application process is cake. Also, the cake there? Amazing.
I’ve said before what a pivotal point attending a conference was for me and I believe helped get me published. I promise you a good experience, you just need to GO. Katie Davis, a woman who I believe sold her soul in exchange for an inhuman amount of energy, made a video of our experiences. Her book, LITTLE CHICKEN’S BIG DAY, has not left my 2-year-old’s side since I got home.

Happy Birthday, Sean Griswold (and his head)

March 1, 2012
Today is the one year birthday of my young adult contemporary novel, Sean Griswold’s Head. I’m oddly sentimental about this fact, because I’ve been so amazed by how this book has been recieved since it’s publication. Actually, everything that has happened with Sean Griswold has been amazing.
I started Sean Griswold’s Head in 2006. I brought the first few chapters to the Chautauqua conference and got a read from author Rich Wallace. He told me it had a great voice, that I really should finish this story. Really? An author and editor who probably reads millions of subs thinks this has promise? I went home and got a good chunk done (a chunk I’m pretty sure no longer exists in the finished manuscript), but then took a few months off to have a baby and move. By the time I finished, it was late 2007, but I knew, I KNEW this story had something.
I sent over 30 query letters to literary agents in small batches of 5 or 6. Of those, half requested to read the manuscript. And of those, about 10 wrote me back with really wonderful rejections that told me the same thing over and over again.
Contemporary YA is a tough sell right now.
I’m not sure I can place this.
Loved it, don’t know if a publisher could get behind it though
I might be making a mistake, but I’m only 92%, and I need to be 100% to be your advocate.

So I lost faith in Sean Griswold. I closed that file and instead started and finished (ish) Princess for Hire. And what do you know, an editor I’d met at a conference years before contacted me out of the blue and asked if I was working on anything. I sent her Sean. She loved it. And two agents did too! Hello sunshine! I signed with Sarah Davies at Greenhouse Literary and she contacted the editor. We worked on revisions together. Sean went to an acquisitions meeting and…
He got shot down.
A moment here to say that hurt. It really did. All those agent rejections seemed prophetic–a publisher couldn’t get behind it. And I had loved working on revisions with that editor, loved the serendipity of her emailing me when she did. I STILL love that editor, and love a lot of her books. But at that time, because of the market, because of the publisher, possibly because of the story, it just didn’t work out.
Sarah and I strategized and decided we needed to put Sean away for awhile. In 2008, pink books were still selling well (thank you, Meg Cabot), so we revised my messy manuscript and sent it out. We had instant interest, and from many different publishers. In the end, Princess sold at auction in a three-book-deal. I got to work on some gnarly revisions that took me months to complete.
In early 2009, Sarah and I had a talk about the fate of Sean Griswold. She wasn’t hugely optimistic about his chances, but said it was a good story and she wanted to go on submission with it. We did some more revisions, and off he went.
To be honest, I didn’t think the book would sell. How could it? How could a book that had been read and rejected by 15 agents and 1 publisher have any chance of actually becoming a book? Didn’t all those no’s somehow taint the manuscript? I adapted a devil-may-care attitude. I didn’t check my inbox a million times for emails from my agent. I didn’t expect a thing to happen. I hoped, yes, but even that hope was thin.
And one day an email from Sarah popped up in my inbox with the subject line “Cross Everything”. Bloomsbury, the publisher who coincidentally had lost the auction on Princess for Hire, liked the story and wanted to share the manuscript with their marketing team and would be in touch soon. I wrote back with a Yay! and my lovely, level-headed British agent replied with a “Just don’t get your hopes up” and went on to explain that although she really wants it to sell, sometimes marketing shoots down quirky books like this.
So I went back to breezy. Book sale? Maybe. Whatever. I don’t care. Just a little thing I POURED MY SOUL INTO. No big.
A day or two later, we had our offer. When Sarah called, I was sitting at the park with my girls. I didn’t cry or start shaking like I did when I heard the news about Princess for Hire. I believe I was in shock. “Really? They want to publish it? Really?”
It was as a modest deal. This wasn’t slated to be a huge book. But I didn’t care–I was going to publish another book in the genre I had always loved. Something that had seemed so impossible was suddenly a possibility. No, it was real.
Other publishers chimed in. We had lovely rejections, even other interest (really? You like it too?), but we went with Bloomsbury. I talked to my editor, Caroline Abbey, for the first time and hung up and finally cried. This story that had so many pieces of me tucked inside was going to be shared, and this woman GOT the book in a way no one else ever had.
Working with Caroline was a dream. I can’t say enough about how enjoyable the revision process was. I probably only cried 2 or 3 times, and those are great numbers. Caroline championed my book in-house, and somehow, Sean started to gain steam. I heard things about a marketing plan when I didn’t think there would even be a marketing plan. I did a huge blog tour. I went on a fun book tour. I got some great professional reviews. And, finally, Sean came into the world.
And then the biggest shocker of all happened. Readers read my book. Readers liked my book. Readers contacted me and told me how much this story meant to them because they had fallen in love with their classmate, or their mom had MS too, or they were sad and this story made them feel better. Those notes were, are, so special to me.
The hardcover of Sean isn’t in Barnes and Noble anymore, probably not in many independents (although the paperback will be out in September with a new cover. Details soon). I’m not selling hundreds of copies a week. But. Scholastic picked it up for their book orders, meaning I’m reaching a readership I wouldn’t have otherwise reached. I’ve been nominated for some nice lists and awards. Bloggers still review the book. And this book that I thought had no hope is still being read. Not by the masses, but there are readers checking it out of their library, borrowing SGH from a friend, ordering it online, downloading Sean’s cute head to their e-reader.
And the emails continue. I want to share something I got yesterday that made my life. A girl named Emily did her book report on Sean Griswold’s Head and SHE DID A DIORAMA. On his head. Dioramas are my favorite school project on the planet. I have been known to do diorama’s with my daughters just for the love of diorama. So yes, it boggles my mind that this little-story-that-could found Emily, and that she liked it enough to do this report. It boggles my mind that you’re reading this now, that I do what I do. Truly. Thank you.

Now, let’s take advantage of my misty-eyed pinings. I’m doing a little birthday giveaway to celebrate. Just comment below, I’ll pick a name, and send along a signed copy of Sean Griswold Head. Now, if you make another diorama? I’ll see if I can find you an actual Sean Griswold.
Sentimentally,